The Bellwether Revivals opens and closes with bodies. The story of whose bodies and how they come to be spread about an elegant house on the river near Cambridge is told by Oscar, a young, bright working class man who has fallen in love with an upper-class Cambridge student, Iris, and thereby become entangled with a group of close friends, led by Iris’s charismatic, brilliant, possibly dangerous brother. For Eden Bellwether believes he can heal — and perhaps more — through the power of music.
In this masterful debut, we too are seduced by this gilded group of young people, entranced by Eden’s powerful personality and his obvious talent as a musician, and caught off guard by the strangeness of Iris and Eden’s parents. And we find ourselves utterly unsure as to whether Eden Bellweather is a saviour or a villain, and whether Oscar will be able to solve this mystery in time to save himself, if not everyone else.
— ♦ —
Some writers weave magic with words. Some are able to breathe into being, between the black and white lines of their novels, manifestations of wonder. And when this magical birth is done by hands debuting in publishing, the feat itself because something that verges on the miraculous.
Benjamin Wood has accomplished such a task with his novel The Bellwether Revivals.
With a voice akin to the vibrant shades in a van Gogh masterpiece, Wood’s characters become wholly realized, their conflicts and behaviors fully exhibited on each page.
The Bellwether Revivals concerns Oscar Lowe, a nursing home care worker who befriends the Bellwethers, a wealthy family in Cambridge. Oscar falls for Iris Bellwether and becomes mates with her brother Eden. Cambridge itself is drawn in such a way that it becomes as essential to the novel as the love affair and necessity that lyrics and music play in the plot. But it is the mystery – beginning with Eden Bellwether “still breathing, but faintly,” and the assorted assembly of other bodies that inform the reader that this will not be a simple story. True, it reads very much like a love letter to Cambridge as well as a romance, but there is danger, there is madness and the question of the limits of faith.
Eden Bellwether could be many things: scrupulous villain, genius, we aren’t sure and that question is left unanswered in the story. But Woods orchestrates the characters and his mysteries with depth, with heart, that makes uncertainty altogether unimportant.
As readers, we are asked to draw our own conclusions, to vilify or immortalize the characters according to our own opinions. It’s a risky, perhaps presumptuous device to use, but it is one that Wood executes beautifully. With The Bellwether Revivals, Woods has reminded readers why they fell in love with such literary class as Brideshead Revisited and the type of story telling that rustles them into the discomfiture and brilliance of worlds not visited, where assumption and belief, faith or logic, are vital questions that they must answer for themselves.
You will conclude your reading of this novel feeling satisfied, feeling shocked, feeling anxious for what next world Wood will ask us to visit.